There are sacred moments in our lives, times that distinguish themselves from others and make us feel wholly alive and happily human.
Some of these moments are spent with friends and loved ones, others when we’re alone and reach some kind of inner clarity. We’re caught musing about the universe and our place in it, and as a result, we’re rewarded with a glimpse of the larger picture and the joy of existence.
These “frozen moments” are indelibly etched and fixed in our minds and can be rewound and replayed, but never re-experienced.
Replaying my life, I find certain fixed moments I’ll always remember, whether it was a person, an aroma, or an event. We attach significance to these moments and they shape us:
It’s 1973 and my grandmother is dunking me in the surf in Ocean City, New Jersey. It is sunny and pleasant. The water is black and dirty, and tar sticks to my feet. I do not like this. Afterwards, we go back to the motel and I’m treated to coconut macaroons and saltwater taffy.
It’s 1977 and I’m on vacation in Maryland in my grandparent’s trailer. Brown wooden paneling, shag carpeting, swinging saloon door divides the living room from the kitchen. There’s tall grass behind the trailer and I discover a three-legged frog I name Jeremiah.
It’s 1979 and I’m in my grandparent’s house in Barrington, New Jersey on a Saturday morning. I watch cartoons and eat cereal. Granny has a drawer in the dining room that she stocks with candy and gum. I sneak some candy and go into the den, which smells of sandalwood. I take the leatherbound books from the shelves and flip through them. I feel relaxed.
It’s 1982 and I’m in a chalet with a loft and a large stone fireplace in the Poconos. My parents and I spent three hours in the car to get here and it’s nighttime. I hook up my ColecoVision to the TV and play video games while mom makes nachos: round chips covered with cheese and jalapeños. Afterwards, we watch Eddie Murphy on Saturday Night Live.
It’s 1986 and I’m on a date with a girl I met in high school. We’re holding hands as the snow begins falling. Our breath clouds and resembles smoke in the chilly air. Snowflakes cling to her eyelashes as I kiss her cold cheek.
It’s 1988 and the day after the senior prom. My friends and I pile into my car and head down to the Jersey shore. We end up at my parent’s vacation home, go to the beach, binge on hoagies and soda and talk about our plans for the future. We're young and confident.
It’s 1990 and I’m in a campground somewhere in Quebec on a summer night. I’m staring at a billion stars glittering in the velvety black void. The air here is clean, cool and moist. The aurora borealis pulses and dances overhead, an undulating wave of spellbinding light.
It’s 1992 and I’ve just made love to a beautiful woman. We cradle each other and fall asleep in my dorm room, under my black and white checkered comforter. As the first rays of morning sunlight filter into the room, I count the freckles on her back.
It’s 1994 and I’m in Dover, England with a classmate staring out at the British Channel. The fierce wind coming in from the channel nearly knocks us off the stone wall we’re standing on. We lean into the wind and shout loudly, raging at this tempest bearing down on us.
It’s 1996 and I’m accepting my first journalism award at the New Jersey Press Association banquet in New Brunswick, New Jersey. It is the Lloyd P. Burns Memorial Award for Responsible Journalism. I take the plaque and get my picture taken while the audience applauds. I started working at the weekly a year and a half ago.
It’s 1998 and I’m standing on a scenic overlook in Monument Valley, Utah. Three large red rock mesas tower in the distance over the landscape. The serene blue sky seems infinite overhead and a Navajo guide volunteers to take us on a jeep tour into the majestic wilderness.
It’s 1999 and I’m getting married in Wilmington, Delaware in my wife’s church. The day is surreal; there's a room filled with strangers and lofty promises and poetry about love. The limo ride to the reception feels like prom night. We are giddy and terrified.
It’s 2001 and I’m watching a jet airliner strike a skyscraper on TV. I’m trying to comprehend the sheer horror of what I witnessed, and feel helpless and angry. I speak with my father and wife on the phone. We are living through history, cowering in the shadows of madmen. That night, when the house is dark and silent, I sit in the living room with the TV on and start crying.
It’s 2003 and we’re just north of San Francisco in the Muir Woods National Monument. The air smells of eucalyptus and pine. Ancient redwood trees tower over us, stretching up to a green canopy. A light wind causes the trees to slightly sway, and their leaves whisper softly.
It’s 2005 and I’m on the observation deck of the Empire State Building. The building’s Art Deco façade is both classy and elegant. Manhattan stretches beneath me, a city of concrete, metal and teeming multitudes. Staring across the Hudson, I see New Jersey’s sprawl and the Statue of Liberty.
It’s 2007 and I finish my set at an Atlantic City comedy club. Afterwards, my fellow fledgling comics and I head to another club and enjoy another comedy show by professional comics. We invite the comics to Hooters and eat chicken wings and drink beer and later are driven around the city by a former professional wrestler in his Cadillac.
It’s 2010 and I’m filing for divorce. After a five-year separation, I feel like I can finally breathe. I sit outside the lawyer’s office with the weight of the world spilling off my shoulders. We are a flawed species, each thrown into a chaotic world we are tasked with making sense of. But there is no sense. Everything is a random jumble of events, some good, some bad, some indifferent. As I write the check and give it to the attorney, I realize just how botched everything is. My marriage produced no children, no enduring love or great happiness. All people want is for love to be reciprocated. We want to be acknowledged in life, with a realization that our existence is meaningful, that we will not be forgotten when we depart.
In the end, life is all about chances. It’s about our collected experiences and about these frozen moments, events that stand out from every other ordinary day. Falling down and getting back up, loving and losing, standing in awe at the beauty of the natural world and being cognizant of your place in the universe.
Bundle all of this together and you get wisdom. You get a life richly lived, warts and all, filled with summer night skies, sweet grandmothers, family vacations, kisses in the snow, comedy clubs, desert sunsets, making love, pine forests, cityscapes, heartbreak and laughter.
These are the moments that make life worth living. In this rapture and sorrow, we discover self-awareness.
We realize how alive we are.